Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
This was easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.
I usually try to include my own little summary of what happens in a book at the beginning of my reviews, but I’m not sure I can even begin to describe “Her Fearful Symmetry,” so this time I’m going to have to let the publisher’s description give you an idea of what this book was about:
When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life–even after death.
Now, usually when a publisher says that their book is ‘captivating,’ I take that with a grain of salt. In this case, though, they are spot on. I was absolutely enthralled by “Her Fearful Symmetry,” I could barely put the book down for any reason. One amazing thing was how well fleshed-out all of the characters were, including Marjike and Martin, the neighbors. The twins were often not particularly likeable, but I couldn’t help but love Martin and Robert. The story was deliciously creepy and had just the right level of paranormal activity, which Niffenegger made seem perfectly reasonable, just as she did with the time travel element in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” This is all not even to mention the writing, which was lovely and descriptive. There was one chapter involving a desk drawer – read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about – that was simply fabulous.
Honestly? I think this was even better than “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and I hope that Niffenegger is hard at work on her next book – I just hope we don’t have to wait another six years!
“Her Fearful Symmetry” is being released September 29th, 2009.